Best wishes Justin

My friend and colleague Justin Portess and his wife Siri are expecting their first child. They are also moving out of the area and this major change in circumstances has caused him to stand down from the Council. This means the residents of Highgate ward (myself included!) will be choosing a new councillor. I’ll miss Justin but I’m delighted to hear that he is starting a family.

In the meantime if you have any problems you still have two fantastic Lib Dem councillors in Neil and Bob and, of course, you can always get in touch with me. You can raise any issues with us via the Highgate ward site – and note that the ward itself, despite its name, also includes the Archway area.

Massive response to Jacksons Lane Community Centre petition

Whoosh! Over four hundred people have already signed the petition to save Jacksons Lane Community Centre. Thank you to everyone who has signed so far, whether online or through the petitions we’ve been distributing in the area. If you’ve not signed yet, please do add your name – just have to click here and fill in the online form.

Highgate councillor Neil Williams and I feature in the Journal’s coverage of the story this week, which you can read here.

Jacksons Lane Community Centre: action needed to secure its future

I’ve Lynne Featherstone MP with Cllr Bob Hare and Cllr Neil Williams at Jacksons Lane Community Centrejust demanded a meeting with Arts Council London to try to secure the future of Jacksons Lane Community Centre – one of our much-loved local resources that has provided so much to residents of Highgate, Archway and beyond.

Organisers at the centre were told in December that its £125,000 annual grant may be cut this year. And without that grant the centre, which has already endured nearly a year of closure, may have to close permanently. Not good!

The problem is that Arts Council London has questioned the commitment of Haringey Council to the centre – not surprising given the delays in funding repairs after roof damage in January 2006 and also Haringey Council’s failure to provide a long lease – which meant the centre missed out on applying for a £1 million grant.

But the annual grant is absolutely vital to the future of the centre and I will not see it disappear without a fight.

Alexandra Palace: Labour loses even more money

Alexandra PalaceHaringey Lib Dem council group leader Neil Williams tells me that he is increasingly worried about council tax payers being taken to the cleaners by the current goings on at Alexandra Palace.

As ever with Ally Pally, it’s a complicated story – and one to which neither Haringey Council, nor the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (also, alas, a Labour councillor) will give full and frank answers, but it goes like this.

When the Trust (and for this we must sadly read Haringey Labour in practice) thought they had a ‘done deal’ with their chosen developer (Firoz Kassam and Firoka), they (the developer that is) were allowed to start trading in the building, to get their feet under the carpet, as it were. It’s a bit like thinking you had sold your house, and then giving the potential future owners the keys before the deal was signed.

However, the deal on the lease was thrown out by the High Court – as the Charity Commission was found to have failed to consult the public properly on their plans for the Palace. The whole process now has to be done again. This could take months, if it happens at all.

In the meantime, as the Trust had no ‘plan B’ to cope with this cock-up, Firoka is now running the trading business at the Pally – and pretty much pocketing the profits coming in, from events and exhibitions, and so on.

Previously, some pretty tidy contributions from trading have always been used to bring down the cost of the Palace to the Haringey taxpayer, possibly up to about £2 million a year – but this pot of money is now essentially in the hands of Firoka, who show no visible signs of passing it on.

Haringey Council describes this situation as “unfortunate” and blames the Save Ally Pally campaign as well as the Lib Dems – i.e. anyone other than themselves, even though it was they who came up with the flawed sell off and they who let Firoka in to start earning money before the deal was finalised. Indeed, they have employed blue-chip PR advisers, Lexington Communications, who are helping them say so – all being paid for by the Haringey taxpayer, just to rub salt into the financial wounds of this all.

Not good!

Brian Coleman puts his foot in it

I see one of my erstwhile colleagues (loose description) at the London Assembly – Tory Brian Coleman – has employed his usual tact and sensitivity to my own local.

Brian, a Conservative London Assembly member, has described Haringey as “ghastly” writing in his blog on the New Statesman website – describing (wrongly!) Haringey as a place “where decent folk lock their car doors as they drive through”.

All one can conclude is that Brian is snobbish, rude, and ill-informed as his remarks show. He is often billed as ‘controversial’ – presumably on account of such insults – but there is a great difference between controversial and ignorant.

My Lib Dem colleague and Leader of the Haringey Liberal Democrat Council group, Neil Williams, put it very well:

“This is exactly why the Tories are so unelectable in our borough. Haringey is a great place and a vibrant and cosmopolitan community – and that is exactly the way we locals like it.

“It’s the same old nasty Tories. They have no idea what Haringey is like and should be ashamed of their comments.”

Of course – the good news – is that there are no Tories at all on Haringey Council – and indeed – Tories came fourth at the last local elections and a very distant third at the General Election of 2005. Cause and effect!

Haringey Council results

Well – it was very close! Massive Lib Dem gains, but not quite enough to take control of Haringey Council – Labour majority cut to just three (30-27 – no other parties have any councillors) with Lib Dems making 11 gains.

We also topped the vote across the borough – adding up the top votes in each ward – and actually now have councillors in a majority of the wards in Haringey. So – very close! Best every Lib Dem result, including our first councillors in Tottenham, many in Wood Green etc.

Lib Dem highlights:

Alexandra – 3 Lib Dem holds – Dave Beacham, Wayne Hoban and Susan Oatway re-elected

Bounds Green – 2 Lib Dem gains – Ali Demirci and John Oakes

Crouch End – 3 Lib Dem holds – Ron Aitken and David Winskill re-elected, joined by Lyn Weber

Fortis Green – 3 Lib Dem holds – Matt Davies and Martin Newton re-elected, joined by Sara Beynon

Harringay – 2 Lib Dem gains – Karen Alexander and Carolyn Baker

Highgate – 3 Lib Dem holds – Bob Hare and Neil Williams re-elected, joined by Justin Portess

Hornsey – 3 Lib Dem gains – Robert Gorrie, Errol Reid and Monica Whyte elected

Muswell Hill – 3 Lib Dem holds – Jonathan Bloch and Gail Engert re-elected, joined by Sheila Rainger (who has taken over my old council seat)

Noel Park – 2 Lib Dem gains – Catherine Harris and Fiyaz Mughal elected

Stroud Green – 1 Lib Dem hold and 2 Lib Dem gains – Laura Edge re-elected and Ed Butcher and Richard Wilson elected

Congratulations and commiseration to all candidates and helpers – both those who made it and those who didn’t, in all parties.

UPDATE: There are now further election result details on Haringey Council’s website.

Ming Campbell visits Haringey

Menzies Campbell MP launches Haringey local election campaign

Ming comes to launch our local election campaign in Haringey – where we have a real chance to take Haringey Council after 35 years of Labour rule. The Leader coming confirms this position!

I and Neil Williams (LibDem Council Group Leader) meet Ming at Harringay station. He arrives at 9.15am on the dot. I love people who are on time and organised. We go to the Tottenham side of the station – to Harringay ward – to photograph Ming with the Harringay candidates and then to the Hornsey & Wood Green side for photographs with the Stroud Green candidates. Both sides are to emphasize our campaign for CCTV on the scary entrances both sides of the bridge.

Ming (Sir Menzies Campbell to give him full title) is looking very dapper and smart. We proceed to the campaign HQ at The Three Compasses where Ming will launch our campaign, meet local members and activists (all stuffing envelopes – and boy there are a lot to stuff) and do one-to-one interviews with the journalists covering his visit.

One of the journos lets it be known that a hastily scrambled together ‘launch’ by Labour Minister Hazel Blears is now to take place at 11am same day having heard about Ming’s visit. I know Labour are terrified of losing the Council – but please!

If it’s true – then Hazel (who is my opposite number as I am her Shadow Minister) will do her duty and attack the LibDems and me as usual. It doesn’t matter which way we vote on anything – be it the police budget at the GLA or the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

We supported the funding for the police and the Violent Crime Reduction Bill – but whatever we say or do – Labour’s mantra is always the same and always untrue. In politics, as opposed to pretty much every other walk of life, lying is just shrugged at and you are just meant to grin and put up with it – but I think that is why politics is in the state it is in – because people can’t be sure that what they read is the truth.

I know I digress – but there is an absurd letter going out in Stroud Green. It purports to be from a Bernard E who lives in Stapleton Hall Road (curiously there’s no-one with the first name Bernard on the electoral register in that road). It basically attacks me for supposedly being a known right winger and supporter of the Orange Book. (A think tank book of essays and ideas by LibDems – one of which was a ‘right-wing’ suggestion about funding in the NHS – thrown out robustly by the party at the following conference).

This would make the party laugh – as that is hardly my reputation or position in the political spectrum. Anyway – there are two versions – one with a Labour imprint and one without (although election law requires all leaflets to have an imprint) – and the writer says he is an old friend of one of the Labour candidates, though doesn’t mention that said person is already a councillor in another ward but was deselected by the Labour party there and so has had to find another ward to stand in.

I mention all this because – whilst we are standing at Harringay Station with Ming – a man comes up to Lib Dem Cllr Laura Edge and me and asks if we have seen this anonymous (in the sense there is no surname and no address) letter going out and how awful it is and how obviously a Labour smear letter. I am heartened by the public’s ability to see through this type of rubbish.

What is odd about the attacks on me is that I am not even a candidate in the local elections as I am stepping down after eight years as a local councillor and five as Leader of the Opposition. But I know that for Labour (and the defunct Tories who have no seats on the council at all) I am a symbol of all of their troubles and political losses.

So at the Three Compasses and into the working room where the stuffing tables are. A big cheer from quite a crowd gathered there and Ming delivers a rallying speech to encourage the troops – as does Neil. Ming clearly thinks we can do it – if we do the work between now and polling day.

Then the series of one-to-ones with reporters. Ming is in fine form – and truly a professional. Interviews over – a couple of members take him for a short tour and then off to Euston to get a train to Manchester for the next big launch. The cry is that we will make great gains across the board – more votes, more councillors and more councils!

Straight back down to earth and surgery at Jacksons Lane Community Centre. Run into Melanie – the Director – who is in happy mode as Haringey ‘found’ the funding to save the centre. I knew they would. Having made it explicit that I would turn this into an election issue if they didn’t I think that may have played a part in focusing their attention on resolving the matter quickly and before the election got under way – although they will undoubtedly claim that had nothing to do with it. That’s where politics works! A situation where Haringey has ignored or not responded on such an important matter – and suddenly with a political spotlight about to shine and me poking my nose in – then things happen.

I remember a similar thing when Labour Haringey wanting to close Muswell Hill library. But the library campaigners, local residents and the LibDems turned it around – with the fortuitous advent of a local ward by-election at that very moment.

In the evening I go to meet Linda Alliston who leads the Coldfall Woods Group. There have been huge problems with gangs of youths on motor bikes ‘buzzing’ dogs and walkers and then burning their no doubt stolen bikes. There is raw sewage (long term problem) being fed into the stream.

The solution to the bikes is to make the woods and football pitches secured by ‘kissing’ gates so that motorbikes can’t enter. For this they need to access the Section 106 money (£500k) from the Lynx Depot development. Cllr Martin Newton (Lib Dem, Fortis Green) comes with me and he has already secured a promise that they would have no problem with a bid for the gates – so they need to write in and I will support that bid. Also – Martin has got the new Safer Neighbourhood police team (which is just in place) to agree that they will come and look at how they can tackle the youth/bike problem.

In the meantime however, Haringey needs to deal with the perennial dumping – and to notify the allotment owners and houses (whether Haringey or Barnet) that back onto Muswell Hill playing field that throwing their BBQ waste over into the fields is not acceptable behaviour. Sadly, there’s an anti-social minority who do this. The good folk who love the fields and the woods have two major clear-ups a year.

Anyway – it was nice to meet the group who look after and love the fields and the woods – a wonderful local amenity – and Martin will pursue the issues and I will also be writing to support the case.

Go back to campaign HQ for a last hour of stuffing envelopes to sooth me down to sleep mode!

Thank you party

Love Friday the 13th! Used to live at number 13 Woodstock Road – was a really happy house – so a good day for my ‘thank you’ party for all those who helped in the election.

Over a thousand people were sent invites – yes – that’s how many people helped with delivering, stuffing, addressing, donating, poster sites, printing, etc, etc, etc. If they had all turned up – we would have been in big trouble!

I arrived at Hornsey Community Centre about 7.40pm and it was already packed – and everyone, all evening, came up to wish me well. It was absolutely fantastic – such a genuine grass roots campaign. Heart warming!

Monica (Hornsey organiser) and Ed (Stroud Green ward) stood on chairs to address everyone and say special thank yous to those who had done above the call of duty – particularly Mark (my campaign manager) and Neil (my agent and Leader of the Lib Dems on Haringey Council).

Now Mark usually checks my blog writings for legal matters – i.e. I don’t want to get sued. And no doubt he will try and remove this posting as it mentions him by name – but I will be checking!

Both Neil and Mark are remarkable – both in ability and commitment. We have all been together in this for about eight years – and what happened on polling day wasn’t just the four week campaign, wasn’t just the war – but was the sum of years of work by a fantastic team of about thirty key activists who have worked unstintingly over these years.

Apart from Mark and Neil – each ward had its own team who soldiered on delivering the campaign in their area. Harold was in charge of printing; David in charge of telephone canvassing; Justin in charge of stakeboards – with great help from Alan and Dave, and so on and so on. The ward teams – Stroud Green (Laura, Richard and Ed), Crouch End (Ron, Peter and David), Alexandra/Bounds Green (Susan, Wayne and Dave), Muswell Hill / Fortis Green (Gail, Martin, Steve and Matt), Highgate (Neil, Bob and Melanie), Woodside (Nigel and Shantanu), Hornsey (Monica), Noel Park (Neil and Fiyaz). And the team who ran HQ – Valerie, Susanne and Monica. My sister – who organised my diary, visits to sheltered housing, leaflets at stations and telling for three wards. Duncan, Mette and Thuranie were my home team helping deal with election enquiries, sending out posters, etc. The Rea family and Bjorn were at HQ constantly and were the backbone of the stuffing operation. Wayne – who did such a great job as our Tottenham candidate (moving up into second with a big swing from Labour). And of course, my daughters, Jenna and Cady. Plus many, many, more!

I just wanted to publicly acknowledge the key team and the hundreds of others who were so generous with time, effort and money.

And the buggers – they presented me with a framed poster of the Hornsey Journal’s paper that they put outside newsagents. It reads in HUGE writing ‘I’ve nagged my way to victory – New MP’.

It’s so true – whenever people ask how I have got so far so fast – I always put it down to my ability to nag (politer term – lobby persistently). After all – it is a middle-aged woman’s life skill!

How polling day went

Polling day begins at 4am meeting in M & S car park to doll out our ‘Good Morning’ leaflets to bleary-eyed volunteers. I am amazed by the turnout. We have never tried to do a Good Morning leaflet constituency-wide before and we worked out to deliver it all in three hours we would need at least 150 people. We didn’t quite make it – but jolly nearly.

After I finish my own delivery I take a car boot full of Crouch End leaflets to HQ for Monica to give to anyone who comes free. As I depart Hornsey a bloke in the street says ‘Oy Lynne! I’m voting for you – gonna give you lot a chance. Fed up with the other two’.

And so the day went, knocking on doors and lots of cheery greetings – fantastic atmosphere. Funniest thing was that I met quite a few residents who said they had voted Labour but that they wanted me to win! Clearly tapped into the schizophrenia that has grabbed Labour (and the Guardian) between wanting to send Blair a message and having been got at by the Labour spin of vote Lib Dem let a Tory in. No chance in my view – but can well understand the nightmare vision of Michael Howard as PM.

Lots and lots of ‘good lucks’, ‘I’m voting for you’ and waves, hoots and shouted greetings as I go out and about knocking up. Don’t know how much you can read into such things – but atmosphere all very, very positive.

An Observer journalist comes to interview me whilst I am banging on doors in Cranley Gardens. I take a welcome break to talk to him. Nice guy – looks at me sceptically when I say I think we can win but that it is very close. I explain the background results over the last seven years that have made this even possible – and he says he will text me later when the result comes through.

More knocking and delivering around the constituency. Endless rounds of endless doors and endless leaflets. Day is uneventful. We hear that Labour are out in force in Woodside ward. My last knock up of the day is in Muswell Hill where it seems everyone virtually is voting Lib Dem – whether lifelong Lib Dems, Labour or Tory – all voting for us! Amazing.

As the polls close – everyone except me and my sister go off to Ally Pally to the count. I go home and watch the coverage on TV!

About 11.30pm my agent, Neil Williams, phones to say we’ve done it with a majority of between 2-3000. How sure? Pretty sure – although Labour apparently think they have squeaked it. Knowing my campaign manager who inputs the count tallies as each ballot box is open and verified – I know that the figures will be spot on.

As I go back into the lounge Dimbleby is just saying that it looks like Hornsey & Wood Green has gone.

I get the call to go to the count about 1.30am and off we go. A reception of Lib Dems, cameras and journalists – cheers and happiness all-round. In the count room it is silent and waiting for the official figures.

Eventually the Chief Exec calls agents and candidates to the table and gives us the result – and it’s official.

We go through for the announcements – and the speeches. And then – Lib Dems back to my house for a bit of a celebration. Although the hallway is packed out with people celebrating when ITV comes to film, it’s only a tiny proportion of those who have helped elect me – our 300+ strong team of volunteer deliverers who do their own street, the 700-odd people who have donated in the last year, my 15 colleagues in the Lib Dem council group, the list goes on … not to mention the most important group – the many thousands of people who voted for me.

I gave a little speech – and finally thanked my campaign manager Mark (a genius) and my agent Neil (equally brilliant). They are extraordinary – both of them – and together with a team of activists and helpers that most candidates can only dream of – we did it!

I had had it by 5am and went to bed leaving about 20 or 30 happy but wrecked Lib Dems downstairs. It was a fantastic result.

Meeting David Blunkett

After an entire day on budget – rush off to a drinks reception at New Scotland Yard to celebrate and mark Sir John Stevens’ retirement.

As I wander around Ken spots me and grabs me and says ‘all day and you couldn’t come up with a figure’. You have to hold your nose as you say those words to replicate his nasal tone accurately. We are having a good-humoured battle of words when David Blunkett come up. Ken introduces me and we shake hands. Blunkett comments on how warm my hands are and Ken makes I suppose what was meant to be a funny remark something about being careful about women with warm hands – can’t remember exactly – but I was acutely embarrassed.

Ken mentions my plans to stand for Parliament. Blunkett says that if we take the council and I have a chance to be leader of the council as he was in Sheffield, that would be even better than going to Parliament. Well – Neil Williams is our leader of the Lib Dem council group and in 2006 if we take the council as we intend, he will be a great leader.

Blunkett then says that he cannot wish me luck in the election (for obvious reasons) but wishes me well personally. Then he and his dog move off.

I was so aware of everything that has happened to him in recent months – how could I not be? Many times I wished him to leave office – but never for the reasons he had to in the end. I believe we are edging towards an illiberal and authoritarian state – much of it driven by him – but in his personal life I am sympathetic.